Jerome Bettis' football career speaks for itself: over 13,500 rushing yards, 91 touchdowns, and eight 1,000-yard seasons. Now, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer is speaking out about the running back he thinks could end up being the best of all-time-- Le'Veon Bell.
Bettis sang Bell's praises recently, saying, "I think he can be one of the best that ever put on a uniform-- not just a Steelers uniform, one of the best running backs ever." There seems to be somewhat of a mutual admiration society going on here as Bell's idol growing up was Bettis. He explained, "For him to rave about me, it's an honor. It's really humbling. That's who I used to watch growing up. He kind of helped me mold my game to where it is now."
Bettis' comments come on the heels of what appears to be a concerted effort to transform the existing narrative about the RB corps.
Here is a brief timeline showing the development of this narrative, which I will call:
The Le'Veon & Williams Story: The Men Victory Depends On
August 20, 2014: Bell is out for a drive with LaGarrette "I can't take living in Bell's shadow" Blount hours before the Steelers' departure for a preseason game and somehow thinks its cool, or not a horribly terrible idea, to smoke marijuana.
September-December 2014: Bell racks up 1,361 rushing yards and over 850 receiving yards, proving himself to be a game-changer and key factor in Steelers' Ws.
December 28, 2014: Bengals player Reggie Nelson basically Tonya-Hardings Le'Veon Bell by taking a shot to the star RB's right knee. While this hit was legal, it left Bell with a hyperextended knee.
January 3, 2015: The Steelers suffer a playoff loss to the Ravens. The New York Times called the offense a "one-dimensional calamity" without Le'Veon Bell. Sports Illustrated was a bit kinder, saying simply, "The Steelers missed Le'Veon Bell in every possible way."
Late January 2015: Bell claims his knee is close to 100 percent in a conversation with NFL.com.
March 13, 2015: The Steelers sign former Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams. Williams says on Twitter that he has "a lot of gas left in the tank," but speculation begins about his ability to contribute.
March 25, 2015: Mike Tomlin expresses confidence in DeAngelo Williams at the NFL Annual Meeting, saying, "We need to fortify depth at the running back position. He definitely fits the bill."
April 9, 2015: News breaks that Bell would face a three-game suspension for his summer-of-2014 antics with LaGarette Blount. Dan Hanzus of NFL.com wrote that his absence would leave the Steelers "feeble" and suggested the Steelers should add another rusher as "insurance."
April 23, 2015: Months after Bell says his knee is close to 100-percent, his assessment of his injured joint hasn't changed much. He tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review his knee is "close to 100 percent." This comment sparks much concern, consternation, and even some panic among fans. (Meanwhile, the season opener is still over four months away.)
Pre-Draft: Grumblings about depth at running back continue amid occasional calls for the Steelers to bolster their offense by drafting a running back, though much more focus is on the hobbled secondary.
Draft, 2015: Concerns about the running back situation are trumped by frantic worry and dismay over the Steelers secondary. Debate erupted over the choice of Bud Dupree in the first round over a cornerback, which was a source of distress to a contingent of Steelers fans who fiercely advocated for on social media and in living rooms across SteelersNation. (As if our pass rush didn't need help, but I digress).
May 2015: The Steelers add UDFA Ross Scheuerman a RB out of Lafayette College as analysts and fans continue the hyperfocus on the defensive side of the ball, Deflategate, and Brady's suspension for the Steelers season opener against the Patriots,
Late May 2015: Le'Veon Bell is so reassuring about his knee that it is actually unsettling. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams, with a new awesome helmet visor that puts Lavar Burton's Star Trek banana clip to shame, becomes outspoken about his role and ability not only to fill in for Bell during the suspension, but contribute all season long. He has facts to back up his claims, citing his familiarity with the Steelers playbook (he's been studying up!) and track record of strong performance. He also, in a word, is pissed with the media, saying, "So shoot. Give me everything you've got. Because it can't get any worse than what you've already given me."
Yesterday: Bettis effusively praises Le'Veon Bell.
Nothing has changed in terms of the Steelers RB situation in the past month, but the narrative certainly seems to have shifted from "The Steelers won't win without Le'Veon, and his knee isn't OK yet" to "Watch out, Le'Veon is a legend, his knee fine, and DeAngelo Williams will get the job done." Bettis' recent endorsement of Bell certainly is a boost for morale in the midst of distracting coverage about suspensions, busted knees, and other negative speculation about the state of the RB corps.
Meanwhile Dri Archer, Josh Harris, and Will Johnson have only bit parts in this ongoing saga. Hopefully while they are behind the scenes with healthy knees, no suspensions, and minimal flack from the media, they have been able to get some good work in so they can be more than extras in the Bell-Williams show.